26 Mar 2014

Six more bodies found in landslide

5:49 am on 26 March 2014

Authorities in the American state of Washington have found six more bodies after Saturday's huge landslide, bringing the number known to have been killed to 14.

Police outside Oso after the mudslide.

Police outside Oso after the mudslide. Photo: AFP

Officials say as many as 176 people may remain unaccounted for after the 54m wall of mud hit near the town of Oso, north of Seattle, the BBC reports.

Search crews have worked day and night, using helicopters and laser imaging. But officials admit they have little hope of finding survivors.

President Barack Obama has declared an emergency in Washington state and ordered federal authorities to co-ordinate the disaster relief effort.

Speaking earlier after surveying the area from the air, Washington Governor Jay Inslee said it was "devastation beyond imagination".

He said the slide "basically cut a mountain in two" and deposited it on the town below. Nothing in the path of the slide was still standing.

"It's that absolute devastation that causes us all real pain," he said.

Searching with bare hands

Family members and volunteers were using chainsaws and their bare hands to shift the wreckage and try to find those missing.

Cory Kuntz, helped by others, worked with chainsaws to cut through the roof of his uncle's house, which was swept about 140m from its foundations.

His aunt, Linda McPherson, had been killed, he said, as he pulled files and personal effects from the house.

"When you look at it, you just kind of go in shock."

Retired firefighter Gail Moffett said she knew about 25 people who were missing, including entire families with young children.

Snohomish County emergency management director John Pennington said at a news conference the official list of the missing stood at 176.

But he said he did not think the final death toll would be so high, because some of those listed as unaccounted for would be found to be alive, and other names would prove to be duplicates.

However, authorities no longer expected to find survivors in the debris.

"We as a community, we as a county, are beginning to realise that we are moving toward a recovery operation," he said.

"There is an awful lot of grieving."